The plane landed, an hour behind schedule. As soon as the fasten seat belt sign was off, everyone scrambled to get their hand carry luggage from the overhead compartment. Uncharacteristically, I scrambled with them out of the plane, eager to get my checked in luggage, exchange my JR pass and get to the train to Shin-Osaka. I was alone and the only Japanese I knew was harigato and sumimasen. Trains run on schedule in Japan and I don’t want to miss every last one of them and end up sleeping at the train stations.
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After exchanging my JR pass, I caught the train to Shin-Osaka a mere minute before the doors closed. I think I got on one of the reserved cars (I hadn’t known there were different types) because the ticket inspector looked at me weirdly when I showed him my JR Pass, told him I was going to Shin-Osaka and smiled so sweetly at him. Haha!
The 45 minute ride gave me a chance to rest for a while. Which turned out to be a good thing because the next hour proved to be really trying. I got off at the Shin-Osaka station and did at least five 360-degree full turns because I didn’t know how to proceed from there. Ten minutes later, I spotted a train staff. After verifying that there were no longer any shinkansens to Tokyo, I asked him how to get to my hotel in Osaka.
After a subway ride, 6 flights of stairs, 7 hours of stay at the Osaka Tomato Hotel, the sun rose and it was time to make my way to Tokyo where I was meeting with Babe, her sister (J-A) and her sister’s friend (XP). I couldn’t have been more relieved when I saw Babe’s face at the Tokyo station. It was finally time for some fun!
The first order of the day was the Tokyo Imperial Palace. On our way from the Tokyo Station, I saw my first cluster of trees with their yellow leaves. I was in awe. It was no longer autumn in Tokyo but the colors were still screaming autumn. I was smiling the whole time. For the first time in my travels, I wanted to take a selfie. It was supposed to be winter already but the sun was out, the leaves were still plenty and colorful and I only had on one Uniqlo heat tech long-sleeved shirt. I was loving it.
East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
After making the wrong turn, we found ourselves at the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. Inside were more trees with leaves in varying shades of red, orange and yellow. Me, I just kept on grinning and trying (but failing) to take more selfies.
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Tokyo Imperial Palace
After that, we finally found the right way to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. We walked towards it under the hot noonday sun. But we were in for a big disappointment. As it turned out, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is set inside a large park, surrounded by moats and stone walls. The inner grounds are not open to the public and the palace is only viewable from the large plaza, a great distance away. DSLRs are of great advantage here. Otherwise, you’d be wishing you had one.
A bit disappointed, tired (them) and hungry (me), we made our way to the Rikugien Gardens. We took the train from the nearby Otemachi Station and got off at the Sengoku Station. We scoured the area for a place to eat and ended up at this restaurant that specializes in soba.
After our lunch, we walked to the Rikugien Gardens (Admission: 300 JPY) where I saw more red leaves and autumn beauty.
By the time we left the garden, temperature started falling but it was still quite pleasant. We hopped on the train to the Shibuya Station to have a look at the statue of Hachiko and the famous Shibuya Crossing.
For those who are not aware, Hachiko was this very loyal dog, born back in 1923. For many years, Hachiko would wait obediently at the Shibuya station for his owner, Professor Ueno. This went on for a decade more even after his owner died of cerebral hemorrhage. It’s like no one told him his master had already passed. Yeah, I was tearing up after XP told the story. Hachiko’s loyalty became very famous that they erected a bronze statue in his image and he even got to attend its unveiling in 1934.
The Shibuya Crossing is famous for the organized chaos it creates when all the traffic lights turn red at the same time in all directions. Cars all stop and pedestrians would make their way to the train station or the nearby shopping and dining district. It was there that I realized, this was the Tokyo I often see in Hollywood movies.
Uniqlo Ginza Store
The night was young and we were fans of Uniqlo. Predictably, we wanted to visit the biggest flagship store of Uniqlo. So, after dinner, we got on the train, got off at the Ginza station and perused the 12-story Uniqlo store in Ginza. Shopping on day 2 of a week-long trip? Yeah, we were off to a great start!
After closing the store (yeah, we were some of the last customers), it was time to turn in for the night. Babe and I had to go back to the Tokyo station for my luggage but J-A and XP were heading straight back to the hotel. It was a very happy day for me and I couldn’t wait for our next adventure: Tokyo Disney Sea.
December 14-15, 2015
***Photos were taken using iPhone 6 or GoPro Hero 4 Silver